Invest in The Singapore Workforce, Part III of III

labour force

This is the second of a three part article contributed by He Shu Han.

Read Part 1 here:

Read Part 2 here:

Let us assume that a M2 style management is adopted in an organization. There are three ways to go about doing it. The first choice is to do it completely in-house, covering theory to practical with internal trainers. The second choice is to rely on external training or outsourced training. The third is a hybrid of the first two – workers are trained in theory and basic modus operandi, and further reinforced through later stage in house on job training. In my opinion, the third is the most effective in practice.

The Singapore government’s Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and NTUC’s Employment & Employability Institute (e2i) works on such a hybrid model, with many advantages.

For most organization, it is usually not effective to conduct all training in house. In addition to being costly in nature, there is simply no economy of scale. Resources allocated to in house training will normally not be able to compete with institutes such as e2i that is specialized and designed ground up with broad spectrum, in-depth professional training in mind. It will be to the benefit of an organization seeking workforce to link up and participate with the WDA and e2i to achieve a win-win situation for both employer and employees.

It is also wise to use them, as third party quality training providers, countering the opposing view of training being a waste of time if workers leave eventually. This is due to the fact that the employer has a reduced cost of training efforts (costs are sponsored or subsidized by the government). Essentially, the employers got employees cheaper and equally well trained. There should be little reason for complains under normal circumstances. Further industry specific skills can be passed on through localized on job training after job matching is achieved, and this streamlines the recruitment process because it opens a further recruitment channel other than traditional means.

WDA and e2i also have a positive social agenda where post training job matching is done. Job matching is of the utmost importance since the training is redundant, if there is no real job for actual skill application. Currently, however, faces some challenges as not all industries are willing to partner with the agencies. There is still a need for further ground work explaining to employers about the obvious advantage of sourcing workers from the agencies to supplement normal means of recruitment such as open advertising.

The primary point of training the workers is to reduce structural and cyclical unemployment. Structural unemployment arises from skill mismatch, and cyclical unemployment arises from sector rotation. These two are easier to tackle. Yet, I need to emphasize that training does not solve classical unemployment and frictional unemployment. In recent years, Singapore faces a problem where PMETs remain unemployed. These PMETs are not unskilled workers, yet, they cannot find a job even if they are willing to take a 40-50% pay-cut.

There are many tangible and intangible reasons to this. A tangible reason is similarly qualified foreign workers are willing to work for less – for example a China Ph.D researcher willing to work for a quarter of a Singaporean Ph.D salary as the exchange rate dictates that if he will receive nearly five times the amount if he remits SGD to RMB. In this case, further skill upgrading will not have an effect as the causation is simply cost benefit to employer. An intangible reason is prevalent cronyism amongst foreign MNCs, where meritocracy is not always valued and other personal factors such as preference for nationality and ethnic groups have come to displace some of our honest, hardworking workers. Similarly, if basic laws are not enacted to protect the marginal rights of our workforce, the efforts of the agencies would have gone in vain.

Believing that the agencies have already noted these various phenomena, WDA and e2I has to tackle this issue if they are to reduce unemployment and increase productivity in the long run. Simply urging workers to blindly upgrade their skills alone does not work if one does not understand secondary causation issues. This is especially true for PMETs holding post graduate qualifications.

It is in my opinion that workers being trained, certified and arranged for a proper job matching will have a substantial increase in gratitude levels. It does not make sense for these workers spend tremendous time and effort to be trained and having a placement for a job to “play punk” or do anything stupid that would jeopardize their path into a viable career, and a more stable future. In effect, this reduces workers leaving unnecessarily.

An interesting side note: I have heard cynics comment that talented people will usually be very mobile as they always have a choice, and those who stay behind are worthless garbage that have nowhere else to go. I think this is a seriously simplified view as I have seen extremely talented people stay in their job for years, at times even without legal bond. At the same time, I have also seen incompetent people moving from job to job hoping to find a better job fit. As much as people have a choice to leave, they also have a choice to stay. It is up to the individual. However, moral boundaries can be further secured when a tripartite agreement is sealed between the agency, employer and employee. An example would be a mutually agreed Contract-Of-Service with periodical performance review, agreed before training and signed post matching and job offer.

I am not talking about Contract-For-Service, which in my opinion, is frequently used by unscrupulous employers to abuse the legal loophole with selfish intention in mind.

A wind-runner horse will only run if the owner feed it well. If we do not invest in our own workforce, who will? The agencies have done some admirable jobs in the past and will likely be in the future. The Singapore workforce is a high quality workforce.

Anyone will be a fool if this workforce is not invested properly.







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